Chopin's Last Tour

Phillip Aughey’s favourite composer is the great pianist Frédéric Chopin and, having been present at a number of recitals of his work last year, he has been motivated to create this biographical piece. With the promise of learning about the background of the composer, and of being treated to a number of his musical creations, this was a production I was greatly looking forward to.

Though Aughey is a talented pianist, the performances (...) are not free from mistakes which somewhat break the illusion of character

So it’s regrettable that, though doubtless being thoroughly researched and awash with precise biographical detail, I am left feeling that the material in its present form would serve an interested party better either in written form or as a lecture. In order to work as a piece for performance, much reworking and fine-tuning is needed.

Turning to the structure of the piece, we watch and listen to Chopin recount the tale of his early life, passions and motivations for his music, from the comfortable position of a seat within his Scottish lodgings during his final tour abroad. Between these episodes of expository narrative are bursts of Chopin’s music – each of which preceded by an explanation of why it was originally written. However, these explanations do not have enough about them to grip us and really draw us in to become genuinely interested. There is much ‘telling’ rather than more subtle writing techniques which might allow us to infer aspects of his character for ourselves. As this pattern of explanation before piano performance recurs time after time we, and the piece itself, soon become all too comfortable and cry out for some dynamic change.

Naturally, our expectations regarding the proficiency of the musical performances are high as we look forward to a rendition which, though of course not reaching Chopin’s level, ought to be the jewel in the crown of the performance. Though Aughey is a talented pianist, the performances of such numbers as an Etude from Opus 10 No. 12, Fantaisie Impromptu in D Flat Major and a Nocturne in C Sharp Minor are not free from mistakes which somewhat break the illusion of character. The quality of the piano itself does not help his endeavours it must be noted.

With a much more focused period of development this is a work which might perhaps return next year with more success. At present though, we feel like we are watching a work-in-progress in the early stages. A nice enough piece, but not great theatre.

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Performances

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The Blurb

1848. Chopin is in Scotland. There's a revolution in France. His father has died. His relationship with George Sand is over. His health is failing rapidly. A show about Chopin's feelings, life and music, with live piano.

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